Grand Paris: the key to the future of Europe - Greg Clark, Senior Fellow ULI

If Europe is to succeed over the next economic cycle, it will need several more cities that are able to provide both world-class environments and the scale required for leading business clusters. Combining quality and size is critical to global competitiveness. But Europe currently has only a few places where this is possible. In the future, Istanbul and Moscow may become great European business hubs, and we will see Barcelona, Amsterdam, Manchester, Hamburg, Munich, Zurich and others grow to offer genuine scale as well as quality. But in the short term, Europe needs London and Paris to lead this charge. This means that both London and Paris must be developed in ways which meet the needs of world-class businesses whilst also succeeding on environmental and social agendas. London’s metropolitan efforts have been visible for several years, but in Paris the new Metropolitan Strategy is now beginning in earnest.

Over the past few years, Paris has become one of the first global city regions to have recognised the need for a comprehensive infrastructural vision for the future. Its regional master plan – Schéma directeur de la région Ile-de-France (SDRIF) – appeared in 2008 as more than just a long-term strategic framework for coordinating a broad range of public policies and private actors. The SDRIF also emerged as a land-use document to regulate local development frameworks, oversee the pattern and location of regional infrastructure and transport, and manage territorial cohesion.

In parallel to the SDRIF, France’s central government launched the theme of Grand Paris, or Greater Paris, in order to encourage a vision of the Paris metropolitan area over a similar time frame. Together, the two planning initiatives present a compelling image of the future of Parisien architecture, urban design, sustainable development and economic vibrancy. They have also shown laudable commitment to involving the public through a series of workshops, citizen conferences and public review processes. Here we reflect on how the resulting policies in the fields of housing, public transport, economic growth, quality of life and sustainability may impact on Paris’ position as a premier world city region.

Arguably the most ambitious aspect of the plan is the target to build up to 70,000 houses per year until 2030, around double the number built in the region in 2010. This is a critical task, as evidenced by Paris finishing last of 75 cities in the Eurobarometer survey for resident satisfaction with housing prices. Approximately half of the new homes are to accommodate new households, with the rest targeted at eliminating the accumulated deficit since 1990 and replacing the existing stock. This huge construction effort is to be co-ordinated geographically according to requirement, aware of the need to reduce regional disparities. Paris has thereby made a clear pledge to reduce the unaffordability of key suburbs, while simultaneously discouraging sprawl. Housing is also being located near to new job growth poles to minimise travel time, alongside a commitment to build adjacent transport links. Instead of zoning land for different uses, residents are to be provided with immediately accessible retail, entertainment and recreational amenities.

Public transport upgrades are seen as pivotal to the new vision of Grand Paris, and the keynote project is a new 130 kilometre, 40-station metro line in the shape of a figure of eight connecting the capital to previously excluded suburbs. This move will build upon the city already recording outstanding scores internationally for transport infrastructure in recent indexes; it rates 1st in the world for combined internal and external transport in the Global Power City Index, and 2nd in Europe (behind London) for the same attributes among continental executives in the European Cities Monitor. Nevertheless the multi-billion euro infrastructure project, led by a special purpose metropolitan authority, The Grand Paris Association, will forge important links with Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports as well as many districts at the city’s outer limits. New stations may open as early as 2017.

The vision of Grand Paris reaffirms the importance of enhancing the region’s international attractiveness and business environment to improve its global standing. Paris’ international reputation for human capital is strong but not spectacular, for example rating 30th in AON’s recent People Risk Index. Currently its unfavourable regulatory framework has also prevented the capital from becoming a top-tier global financial centre, where it ranks 18th in the Z/Yen index.

The Grand Paris planning framework, by contrast, looks to transform business districts into 24-hour neighbourhoods, replete with an exceptional range of cultural services to optimise urban living. These business centres, hosting high-quality service functions, are set to shoulder the majority of the planned increase of 700,000 jobs between 2004 and 2030. The region has earmarked eight ‘poles of competitiveness’ – sectors considered the most globally competitive – to focus on in the medium-term. These are software and complex systems, medicine/life sciences, digital/ICT, sustainable urban mobility, environmental technologies, finance innovation, cosmetics and aerospace innovation. Business centres are to be divided into three types across the region; powerful and dynamic international clusters (for example, Paris Sud-Est) which demand prioritised transport planning; trade and airport hubs (such as Le Bourget) as potential homes for international business; and metropolitan centres of influence, within easy reach of the CBD, operating as key office markets. Trade and professional meetings are seen as key to this business centre strategy, as Paris is already a world-leader in this area, ranking 3rd worldwide in the ICCA list of business meeting destinations. The creation of specific nodes, earmarked as zones of excellence, to become the preferential home for research, public and private higher education, and innovative start-ups, is intended to further improve Paris’ prospects as a host of foreign investment. Here it already performs well, ranked 3rd by IBM for investment projects in 2009 and 2nd in fDi Magazine’s European Cities of the Future study.

Finally, planners of Paris’ metropolitan future are responding to the impact of climate change and rising fuel costs by preparing the fundamentals of an ‘eco-region’ that set a global standard for sustainability. Currently Paris is only 67th in Mercer’s Eco City index, and rates behind London and Madrid for ecology and natural environment in the 2010 Global Power City Index. In Siemens’ European Green City Index, the city performs well for CO2 output (6th) and building efficiency (8th), but more modestly for energy consumption, waste disposal and air quality. In response, new housing is set to incorporate advanced technologies to become environmentally and aesthetically friendly, with green spaces integrated into the urban layout. The Grand Paris vision also pledges to reduce sound pollution, to refashion multi-lane carriageways as pedestrian-friendly urban boulevards, and to invest considerably in the promotion of biodiversity and local food production. This grand new vision for Grand Paris is essential to giving Europe the scale and focus needed for global competitiveness and quality of life. It is vital that the Grand Paris process succeeds. Image: Cimm

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